Two days after a fire in a two-story Woodside home killed three Bangladeshi men living in basement rooms it was revealed that the dwelling had in fact been investigated twice before by the Buildings Department as an illegally-converted apartment building. It had passed both times.
This is outrageous.
On the records, the deathtrap on 65th Street had been legally converted into a five-family residence from a two-family home with an additional seven single rooms. Complaints about the illegal divisions sparked two inspections by the Buildings Department, once in 1990 and again in 2004. Inspectors allegedly found nothing wrong.
Those inspectors, if still on the job, should be suspended immediately.
The building’s owner, Subir Barua, a pharmacist, who was severely burned in the blaze, should be arrested and thrown in jail for renting out the illegal rooms from which all paths of escape were blocked by illegal alterations.
Illegal apartments, potential deathtraps like this one, exist all over Queens. Something must be done to discover them, report them and put the greedy landlords out of business before more innocent “tenants” die or firefighters perish fighting blazes in buildings like this one.
Perhaps the postal carriers could report multiple mail recipients at addresses that should only have one or two families. Maybe the water department could report a jump in the use of water at illegally-converted houses. Utility giant Con Edison, which meters gas and electricity use in these homes from year to year, could report sizeable jumps in usage at illegally-converted dwellings.
Neighbors could call in and report numerous “tenants” living next door or down the block.
Other agencies like the Fire Department, Police Department, Post Office and Sanitation Departments could help inspect suspected sites before the Buildings Department is called to issue its summons and close down the building by revoking its Certificate of Occupancy.
Until the city responds to this urgent problem, we urge you to report suspected illegally converted houses to Buildings Commissioner Robert D. LiMandri at Executive Offices, 280 Broadway, 7th Floor, New York, NY 10007 or call the Building Department at 212-566-5000.
Let us declare war on illegal dwelling in our borough.